Shaheen Bagh: Between rock and hard place

They are tired, even defeated, but would not like to call their act off without some kind of a face-saver. The Supreme Court on Monday asked three interlocutors, all three known sympathisers of the Shaheen Bagh campaign, to talk to the protesters to find if an alternative location can be found for the two-month-old dharna against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. “We are not saying that people don’t have the right to raise their concerns. The question is where to protest? Because if this continues on the roads today, tomorrow it could be done for another legislation…”, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul remarked while hearing a petition seeking re-location of the protest. The court in passing noted that though the challenge against CAA is pending in the Supreme Court, protesters have the right to continue their agitation but in a place and manner which does not disrupt normal life. “If you want to protest, it has to be in an area identified for protest”, Justice Kaul remarked. The other judge on the bench was Justice K M Josheph. Indeed, given how the protest had inconvenienced tens of thousands of commuters by blocking one of the main arteries in South Delhi, the court asked the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta why no action had been taken to clear the protesters from the main thoroughfare. “You do not need our certificate” to clear the road, the judge said. Mehta said it was required since all kinds of allegations against the government were being made. In other words, till the three court-appointed intermediaries suggest a way out after talking to the protesters, Shaheen Bagh will continue where it has since the start of the anti-CAA agitation on December 15. Many copy-cat Shaheen Baghs had since come up in the Muslim-dominated areas in northern India. Now, it seems the organisers funding the shows might be looking for a respectable way to end them. Particularly after the stupendous victory of the AAP in the Delhi Assembly poll last week, there is little interest in keeping the anti-BJP fervour at a high pitch among the Muslims who in any case do not vote for the saffron party. Besides, the Congress Party, which again drew a blank in the Delhi poll, would have lost the spirit and motivation to back Shaheen Bagh any longer. Protesters had not only attacked CAA but targeted the NRC as well, claiming it was anti-Muslim and needed to be abandoned outright. Meanwhile, after suggesting at the weekend that he was ready to meet the protesters if they sought time from his office and wanted to discuss CAA, Union Home Minister Amit Shah sounded less enthusiastic about such a meeting. A section of the protesters suspected in Shah’s offer an attempt to divide the Shaheen Bagh crowd. Housewives and elderly women who usually sit at  Shaheen Bagh  were not their own free agents. Various Muslim fundamentalist organisations have actually orchestrated the protests. It was for them to decide the next course of action. Their best bet would be a reprieve by the court. But it seems the court might be inclined only to direct it shift to a place where it does not hinder free movement of traffic. The police were not ready to use force to clear them out from the road. The official strategy appears to be to tire them out.

This becomes further clear from the Prime Minister’s assertion in Varanasi on Sunday that there would no going back on CAA. CAA and the neutralisation of Article 370 were in national interest and the Government would not budge even an inch on these laws. Under the circumstances, the Shaheen Bagh crowd seems trapped between a rock and a hard place. The elite media, initially all gaga, espying in Shaheen Bagh the birth of a new republican spirit among ordinary Muslim housewives, seems to have lost its enthusiasm. In the end, the fundamentalist outfits which pick the considerable tab for the supposedly instantaneous, automatic protests, would have to take a call. Whichever way it is, Shaheen Bagh is set to peter out even without a whimper.